Book marketing requires patience

“My book’s been out for three weeks, but I haven’t sold nearly as many as I thought I would by now! What’s wrong?”

I hear this repeatedly from authors — in person, via email, online.

Somehow, many authors have been brainwashed into thinking that if they don’t sell thousands of books in the first few weeks of publication, that all is lost.

It’s hopeless.

They’ll never sell another book again.

Discouraged and disappointed, they stop doing anything to support, market, or promote their books.

They just give up.

What many instructors don’t understand about books

I don’t think anyone is teaching this, though. It’s more likely that authors are seeing that online course instructors are completely focused on how to launch a book, ignoring what comes later.

This could be because many popular book marketing training programs were created by people who are internet marketers. They treat books like online products, which tend to sell the best only when they’re new. It’s that whole “scarcity” concept — “The cart is closing now!”

With many digital products such as book marketing courses, you can only buy the product for a limited time.

That’s hardly the case with books. I wonder if many course creators miss that point.

But just because internet marketers don’t try to sell their online training programs and other digital products once they’re not “new” anymore doesn’t mean you should take that approach with your books.

The long tail

patience 2
Chris Anderson’s book on the subject is an example of how this works. It was published in 2006, but still sells well.

In general, books don’t become wildly popular overnight. For book sales, there’s what’s often referred to as a “long tail.” A lot of products sell slowly, in small quantities, for a long time (hence, a “long tail”).

In contrast, a relatively small number of books are immediate best-sellers.

Those that do skyrocket to the top quickly are nearly always from traditional publishers that are supporting the titles with significant marketing budgets. And with the exception of a few debut authors, the best-sellers are often written by established writers.

Penguin’s campaign for Celeste Ng’s second book, Little Fires Everywhere, is an excellent example. Marketing started months before publication date and included a major ad campaign.

Why would you expect the same results without those resources? The average author simply doesn’t receive this level of publisher support. Because of that, it’s clearly unrealistic to expect sales that match those of household-name authors in the first few weeks of publication.

Amazon category best-seller status is deceptive

Oh, sure, you can orchestrate an Amazon category best-seller campaign (that’s an affiliate link for a free e-book that tells you how to do it). But you know that hitting number one in a category isn’t the same thing as being a true best-seller. You can sell fewer than 10 books in one day and become a category best-seller for a short time.

The only real reason for working toward category best-seller status is bragging rights.

Authors aren’t complaining to me about not reaching that goal, though. They’re complaining that they haven’t sold hundreds or thousands of books as soon as their books are introduced.

It rarely works that way. Instead, many books become true best-sellers over time because of good word-of-mouth.

Why book marketing requires patience

In order for people to talk about your book, they have to read it. Most of us don’t read a book as soon as we buy it — your book gets added to a stack of others waiting to be read, or sits on an e-reader. (Right now, I’m reading a book I purchased a year ago!)

Readers will get to to your book eventually. When they do, they’ll tell others about it if they love it. It takes time for them to discover, buy, read, and recommend your book.

If you’ve got a huge publisher behind you who distributes hundreds of advance review copies in an effort to build buzz before, during, and after your book launch, you’re very lucky.

But if you’re the average author, whether you’ve used a traditional, hybrid, or self-publishing model, you need to be in it for the long haul — or tail.

Success doesn’t happen overnight. You need to be patient.

Adjust your expectations, then keep marketing long after the launch.

Ride that long tail to publishing success.

What have you been doing to promote your book beyond that launch window?

Tip of the Month

book marketing requires patience 2I like to share a “Tip of the Month,” a free resource or tool for authors, on the last Wednesday of the month.

This month it’s Awesome Gang, “where awesome book readers meet awesome writers.”

This site, run by an author, offers a number of opportunities for book exposure. They range from getting listed on the site to author interviews (you interview yourself) and social media mentions.

There’s no charge for any of this. For a mere $10, though, you can get your book featured on Awesome Gang’s home page and be guaranteed a spot in its social media promotion.

Learn more at AwesomeGang.com.

Like what you’re reading? Get it delivered to your inbox every week by subscribing to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter. You’ll also get my free “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources” cheat sheet immediately!


  1. My experience through the years has been that it takes time for my books (Christian nonfiction) to take off. Two years to get rolling has been sort of standard, it seems. I have one book that has been steadily gaining more steam in the last couple of years, and it is nine years old.

    The only thing I can attribute the gradual increase to is word of mouth, but it works. Even though I have everything at Amazon and other book retailers, I sell quite a few books directly from my website, too — probably due to my readers having built a trust relationship with me.

    Thank you for all your articles, Sandra. They are inspiring and so helpful!

    1. Thanks, Lee Ann. I love that you’re noticing a pattern here (and that you’re smart enough to pay attention). It can be a slow build, but what you want to accomplish is exactly what you’re seeing: more sales over time.

      It says a lot that you can sell books from your site, too, and I think that IS built on a your relationship with your audience. Good for you!


  2. This post is music to my ears. I followed the Amazon best-seller strategies and earned my bragging rights only to see sales take a dive shortly after launch. Then came across other resources that suggested all was lost if you didn’t pursue an aggressive marketing/publicity strategy a year before launch.

    I am delighted to hear there’s still hope. The books that compete with mine are permanent on the best-sellers list even though they were published 20+ and 15+ years ago.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Sandy. You made my day!

    1. I completely understand the Amazon best-seller concept and the limited rewards. But it’s a temporary bump in sales that doesn’t reflect the book’s potential in the marketplace. And sure, it helps if you started building your platform early, but all hope is not lost if you didn’t! Find what makes your book different from those perennial sellers that you compete with and use that to your advantage. I’m going to guess that you are well-positioned to speak to a younger audience on their terms as a peer, so leverage that! Good luck!


  3. Heartening news indeed, Sandy. Thanks! I’m only now getting down to the serious marketing of my Christian memoir-cum-how-to book, published last August. And after following you and my one other highly respected book-marketing mentor, I’ve come to the conclusion that doing a little regularly is better that trying to build Rome in a day. Looking forward to more of your helpful guidance.

    1. I’m glad it was helpful, Jan. Many, many authors just aren’t in a position to do everything that’s recommended around the publication date because they have full-time jobs or other obligations. It’s time to lose the guilt over not marketing “enough” and do what you can, when you can. You just have to be smart about what you do, focusing on what will reach your ideal readers rather than simply copying what someone in your writers group is doing.

      Good luck!


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